How using painkillers can lead to an opioid addiction

Posted at 1:26 PM, Aug 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-30 13:27:04-04

Many people who have used opioids are often prescribed them by their physician to manage pain and/or injury that is not responding well to other medications.  Some of these opioids can include Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora), Hydrocodone (Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Vicodin), Morphine (Astramorph, Avinza MS Contin, Kadian), Oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxecta, Roxicodone).

Opioid painkillers are all derived from opium. Heroin is from the opium derivative, morphine, and prescription painkillers from the derivative, codeine. Opioid drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord and other areas within the body.

They illicit euphoric effects by binding with the opioid receptors in the brain. “Different opioid drugs have different effects determined by the way they are taken and by the timing and duration of their activity at the opioid receptors,”

Opioids reduce and eliminate some messages of pain sent to the brain, reducing their sensation felt by the body.  Those who are suffering from chronic pain find them to be a welcome relief to a body fraught with continual pain. In many instances, the discontinuation of the drug by the prescribing physician may leave the patient with physical and/or psychological cravings. 

This craving may incite the need for continuation to seek the drug; not only for the reduction and blocking of pain signals, but increasingly for the feelings of relaxation and relief.  These unfortunately are the first glimpses of substance abuse occurring within the patient.

Many patients are unaware that their need, known as “threshold” is increasing, in a subtle, sometime undetectable way. At Hickory House Recovery, they see the effects of increased opioid use and how increased usage manifests into addiction, warranting treatment.  They offer residential care to treat opioid addiction. 

Many find that the physical response of the body to the drug is undeniable. Stress is reduced with the goal to eliminate or reduce stress and pain frequently the primary goal for the patient’s actions.  Difficulty procuring additional prescriptions may become a concern, and many individuals seek opioid pills from the street. OxyContin can run $50-$80/pill and generic oxycodone can run $12-$40/pill. However, many later find that street pharmacy is expensive, sometimes difficult to procure and a dangerous undertaking in stark contrast to a doctor’s script where prescribed meds are usually $6/pill.

Research shows that addiction to painkillers can lead to heroin use partially because it is less expensive and more accessible than prescription opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA, 2017).  “People often assume prescription pain relievers are safer than illicit drugs because they are medically prescribed; however, when these drugs are taken for reasons or in ways or amounts not intended by a doctor...they can result in severe adverse health effects,” (NIDA, 2017).

“Most public health officials and a growing number of policymakers now acknowledge that the country’s rise in prescriptions for opioid-type painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet play a major role,” HealthLine says.

Additionally, in a 10-year poll, people who said they had used pain relievers for nonmedical purposes were 19 times more likely to have tried heroin than people who had not used pain relievers outside their intended purposes, according to research published by the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality.

How do you avoid the road to heroin abuse for yourself and your loved ones?

It can be easy to think that addiction affects “other people” and those who are addicted live a completely different life that is unfamiliar to you. Educating yourself by reading this and other articles helps. Take your prescription(s) as directed and follow your physician’s directives, especially when prescribed opioids. If you feel the prescription is not right or the dosing is too high or too low, talk to your physician and discuss your concerns. 

When you have leftover painkillers you don’t need, dispose of them properly, so neither you nor anyone else will be tempted to use them. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration gives continually updated information about how to dispose of various drugs.

Hospitals usually will not provide detoxification for a person addicted to opioids as it presents no life-threatening side effects once withdrawal occurs.

Residential rehabilitation is the clinical recommendation for sustained sobriety and recovery and is available at Hickory House. They can offer residential treatment that addresses opioid addiction with or without a mental health disorder (bipolar disorder, depression, PTSD) in a private and serene environment.

First steps include encouraging a discussion about treatment of opioid addiction. Avoid blaming, shaming and judgment of the individual. Addiction is an isolating and stigmatizing disease. Negative engagement can further isolate the individual.  Set boundaries that are comfortable for you, be clear not to enable the disease, and offer support to the individual.

To get professional help and engage in the right treatment, Hickory House Recovery is here to help.